From the Parochial Vicar: Missionaries, Not Mercenaries

THEME : MISSIONARIES, NOT MERCENARIES                                                                         BY REV FR ANSELM CHIGOZIE AMADI

INTRODUCTION: The Bethel sanctuary was built by King Jeroboam to prevent the people from going to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to God. This  was motivated by political reasons, to secure the Northern Kingdom from having contact with the temple of God in Jerusalem, less their hearts turn back to the king of Judah (1kings 12:26-30). He, therefore, established two royal sanctuaries as alternative places of worship for the Northern Kingdom. He appointed  Amaziah to be the priest of this “political sanctuaries”. Amaziah, so to say, was a minister of “political sanctuary” and ministered to the political interest of the king.

Amos, on the other hand, was a minister of the Word of God and God’s spokesman. His prophetic utterances threatened the political security of Jeroboam and job security of Amaziah, the conventional priest. In defense of his politically based priesthood, Amaziah saw the message of the Most High as treason and banished the prophet. The two actors of the biblical scene mirror two  classes of religious workers in the church today, namely, missionaries and mercenaries.

In the old testament we have court prophets who minister in the court of the king. They told  the king what he would like to hear and painted walls instead of speaking out when the king was in error. Those prophets and priests placed affinity with the king above relationship with God and counted material benefits more important than eternal reward. Such are the likes of Amaziah, mercenaries and not missionaries. Compromise is their Creed and gain their measure of success.

Missionaries are those whose hearts the Lord has touched and who are sent by the Lord to proclaim the Word to the world, to both kings and nobles, rich and poor alike. They are empowered with the Word and spiritual authority as Jesus did to the apostolic emissaries in the gospel. They fear neither human nor spiritual strongholds in cognizance of their spiritual endowment. Real missionaries speak truth to power and combat the powers of darkness, be it sickness or demonic influence.

Amaziah banished the prophet thus: “go to Judah and earn your bread there by prophesying ( Amos 7:12)”. Because of his bread apostolate, he could not see beyond the mercenary boundaries. Amos was motivated by a power beyond bread attractions. Jesus gave us in the gospel, the power that sustained true missionaries when he said “my food is to do the will of my father (John 4:34).

In man, we have sensitive appetite which is satisfied by material and carnal gratification and rational appetite which is otherwise called the will, only satisfied by spiritual values. The former belongs to the animal level and the latter to the intellectual and spiritual. In the satisfaction we get from bread, we are equal to animals, but in our spiritual appetite for higher values, we are superior to animals. Among the spiritual values which distinguish us from animals, is doing the will of God. We attain a higher fulfillment and spiritual satisfaction by doing the will of God, than any material thing can give us. Hence the psalmist says “he has given me a greater joy than they have from abundance of corn and new wine….(ps 4:6). There is something more than bread. Matthew saw it and left his lucrative tax office to be a missionary. A young man saw mother Teresa cleaning up a leper and said scornfully, “I can’t do that for a million dollar”, and mother Teresa replied, “even for two I will not do it”. The saintly nun saw something more than bread for which she undertook difficult things for Christ. It is the hidden treasure discovered only by those who search for it.

Jesus called the twelve to himself first, equipped them with the Word, and authorized them to cast and to heal before he sent them out. They were to travel light, detached and selfless, only depending on divine Providence: an ideal of missionary outfit. In their detachment, they highlight another wealth and treasure which the world cannot give. The apostles having been equipped with the real spiritual treasures are driven by the joy of same as they operate at that level. While concerned with treasures of higher value, it was unnecessary to stoop lower for cheap material goods like copper coins.

We are all missionaries to our world given the original meaning inherent in the word mission: to send. God has sent us into the world to bear before it the eschatological witness. By the way we live our lives, our brothers and sisters will realize that this world is not our final destination. When we give up attachment to “copper coins” we are calling attention of our world to the spiritual treasure above. When we abandon the earthly “haver’s bags”, we bring to the fore the spiritual possession we inherit in Christ. The missionary lifestyle recommended by our Lord is for all believers who live in this world but are not of the world. The aim of this lifestyle is to announce without words the transient nature of this world and the eschatological reality towards which we are oriented.

Our Lord only instructed the apostolic missionaries to take a staff. This was not without a mystery behind it. The mystery of the staff for mission was revealed in Moses’ mission to Egypt. When Moses was afraid, God told him to throw down his staff(Ex 4:2). In obedience, Moses threw down his staff and it turned into a serpent, then the mystery. It was customary in Egypt that the crown of Pharaoh bears an inscription of the serpent, a symbol of sovereignty. This prodigy revealed to Moses the meaning of the staff. It was a sign of authority as of a king. When eventually the staff of Moses swallowed up those of Egyptian magicians, the higher revelation was made. It became evident that the authority of God’s messengers is superior to those of earthly kings put together.

CONCLUSION : The Lord has sent us as his emissaries to the world. As Amos was sent to preach against the political sanctuary of  Jeroboam, we are to confront the evil powers of our time. We have been given the staff as our symbol of authority. If we forget what we have and seek that which the world gives, our missionary mandate will be mutilated to serve a mercenary purpose. We have received a greater treasure of the spirit let us apply it to spiritual purpose.


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